A new study has warned that the loss of $200 billion (£131 billion) worth of pollinating services from insects because of human-induced pressures will cause profound economic, health and environmental consequences.
The paper, Threats to an ecosystem service: pressures on pollinators from a team of 40 scientists from 27 institutions, was published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment this week.
To investigate the effects on natural pollinators, institutions including the UK’s Insect Pollinators Initiative (IPI), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Scottish government have found that multiple human-induced pressures are responsible for declines in pollinators.
Climate change, the introduction and spread of alien species, land-use intensification, pesticide use and disease are examples of anthropogenic threats.
“There is no single smoking gun behind pollinator declines. Pollinators face many threats and it’s likely that these combine to exacerbate the negative impacts of each”, said Dr Adam Vanbergen, from the Natural Environment Research Council’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and lead author of the report.
“Intensive farming reduces the availability of nectar and pollen foods for these insects and such malnourished pollinators will be more susceptible to pathogens and pesticide impacts, for example.”
The report has warned that the loss of $200 billion (£131 billion) worth of annual pollinating services will threaten human food supplies and ecosystem functions. Further research and stakeholder collaboration to help tackle the multiple pressures on pollinator health and populations has been suggested by the scientists.
Recommended conservation actions from the study include expanding education on pesticide risks, creating effective habitat networks and the development of disease therapies.
|Importance of Pollination|
How Pollinators Affect the Biological Food Systems
Population declines of some pollinators have been known since the 1990’s. Currently, there are no national or regional organizations that collect data or track the populations of pollinators. We must put attention on these important contributors to our food chain, especially as they continue to dwindle. Honeybees are currently our primary pollinator for many crops and we rely upon them heavily, too much so. There are many native pollinators that could and do help carry the load and in some cases replace honeybees as the primary pollinator as they are individually more efficient pollinators than honeybees. Heavy concentration on native pollinator conservation will be needed to restore these creatures back to the numbers where they can be of full benefit to agriculture.
“The global threat to the pollination of flowers and food production crops, highlighted by a dramatic decline in honeybee colonies, could be eased by a renewed focus on ‘wild' pollinators. Agri-environment schemes that encourage farmers to create bee-friendly habitats could be the key to increasing numbers of valuable wild pollinators like bumblebees in the wider countryside."
"Dr Carvell, an ecological researcher, sees wild pollinators as a vital ‘insurance policy' to avoid the effect of honeybee losses such as those in the US, leaving crops like almonds and apples without their key pollinators, and in China where growers have been forced to pollinate apples by hand. With honeybee numbers dwindling and the obvious risks of relying on a single domesticated species to provide almost a third of what we eat, it is vital to conduct more research into both managed and wild pollinator populations.”
Bees are the primary pollinators of many important agricultural crops. Honey bees provide the majority of pollination services on most farms, but native bees can provide an important component of a sustainable pollination strategy. Most agricultural landscapes have resident populations of native bees, though their abundance may be low because of intensive farming methods that minimize availability of suitable nesting and feeding sites. Growers can adopt some relatively simple practices in and around their fields to enhance farm suitability for these important beneficial insects.
Pollination is the sexual reproductive process known as fertilization, that plants need to develop fruit and seeds. The pollen grains are the male part of the plant and need to be transfered from one flower to another. This is where pollinators come into play. They can be an assistant to pollination, where improved genetic transfer happens helping to increase plant diversity. In some cases, visits from pollinators are essential to produce seeds for the continuation of the species. Other plants may produce seed, but will produce smaller and lesser amounts. To attract pollinators, plants produce nectar or excess pollen that pollinators collect for either immediate or later use as their main food source.
This may all sound very scientific and unrelated to the daily lives of people, until we realize how much of the food we eat depends upon this process, about 1/3 of the food you eat depends upon pollination. Even then, many may wonder why they should care, after all, this process has gone on for millions of years without problems, right? What has changed? Why should you worry about this, isn't it someone else's problem? Here is what you should know. Many pollinators species (honey bees, bumblebees, butterflies, humming birds, moths, and flies) are in decline all around the world.
The first well publicized indication of this was the Colony Collapse Disorder, which made world-wide headlines in 2006 when the populations of tens of thousands of honey bee colonies "disappeared" in the matter of months. This could mean a drastic change in this process called pollination. People and other animals depend upon pollination for their food, shelter, clothing, medicine and aesthetic needs, all provided by the process of pollination.
Although nature has ecosystems that are designed to be robust and redundant, there are still key elements in these systems that can cause problems that ripple throughout the entire system. Pollinators are the key component to healthy ecosystems. Even though nature has designed the system with multiple pollinator species to do the overlapping jobs, all of them are currently at risk. This is due to a variety of factors, such as increased use of pesticides, environmental changes, destruction of pollinator habitats, and poor land management.
Although there is not yet enough data to paint a clear picture of the ramifications of these risks, it is clear that pollinator species are in decline. In China, where pesticide use in orchards has killed native bee species, thousands of acres of apple and pear trees must be pollinated by humans using goose feathers. "thousands of villagers climb through the trees, hand-pollinating them by dipping 'pollination sticks'—brushes made of chicken feathers and cigarette filters—into plastic bottles of pollen and then touching them to each of the billions of blossoms."
As stewards of the planet and the environment we live in, it is our responsibility to pay close attention to these risks and this decline in pollinator species. We must take action to monitor and correct problems that threaten these essential pollinators that maintain the biodiversity necessary to supply our food, medicines, building materials and all the other plant and animal life we depend upon for our well being.